We’ve seen games based on the Transformers cartoon and movie franchises before, but they’ve never quite delivered. Typically, such titles show little besides unrealized potential, which is why we entered the review of Trasnformers: War for Cybertron with some trepidation. However, High Moon Studios, the team responsible for the very solid and entertaining Kung Fu Panda , had the capability to do it again. And thankfully, for the most part, they did. The technical aspects aren’t anything to write home about, the voice acting is often spotty, and there are some small issues concerning the camera and basic controls, but the positives outweigh the negatives. Perhaps it helps a great deal that War for Cybertron is an original adventure; it isn’t based on any of the films. This means we get a new story in the form of a semi-intriguing sequel and this particular experience will definitely give you some serious bang for your buck.
As I just said, the graphics really aren’t outstanding, but they suffice. I always find myself thinking the game is much too dark – doesn’t this planet have any suns? – but there are a few brighter parts of the quest, and the transformer detailing is actually quite good. What we’re usually most concerned with in a fast-paced action shooter is whether or not the frame rate remains steady, the animations remain fluid, and the overall visual presentation matches the intended attitude and style. As was the case with Kung Fu Panda , High Moon manages to excel in most all areas of concern, and that’s good news for Transformers fans. The levels are nicely constructed and mostly diverse in nature, the special effects aren’t particularly flashy but still quite competent, and the cut-scenes are especially appealing. It’s not going to win any annual graphics awards but then again, it doesn’t need to. This palette and presentation works very well; it delivers much of what it promises and followers of the series likely won’t be disappointed.
The sharpness of the sound and the decent array of music helps to make the game even more entertaining. In some ways, one might expect the effects to override everything else; after all, we’ve got high-powered massive robots engaging in battle. But the developers strike a good balance between the intensity of the effects and the clarity and quality of the soundtrack, which isn’t easy to do. The voice acting can be decent at times but then again, we have to remember we’re talking about a cartoon-y, comic-y premise that doesn’t necessarily take itself seriously. In other words, much like the visuals, the sound simply fits. Occasionally, I wanted more of an explosive impact to accompany one of my over-the-top assaults but overall, I was most satisfied with the results of my mech marauding. It would also help a great deal if you had a decent stereo setup in the home; this is one game that could really benefit from enhanced audio.
Third-person shooters no longer take a back seat to first-person shooters in terms of quality and cutting-edge achievements. In fact, many of the best games of the generation are TPSs, which is why a game like Transformers really needs to nail down the basic control mechanic; the mech-based structure throws another wrench into the works. Controls for mech adventures can often prove to be clunky, slow, awkward and entirely unreliable, and when you’ve got specialized robots that can transform into other machines with completely different abilities…well, it sounds like a development nightmare. But while High Moon doesn’t exactly ace the test, they do pass with flying colors. They simplify the action and transforming approach by fluidly streamlining machine transitions, and they even manage to add an effective and polished flight system. Moving about and blasting away at the enemy is easy and engaging, and the challenge always feels just about right.
There are a few small issues, though. For instance, the camera can go bonkers when jammed into a tight space, or when you find yourself pinned against an ally. This leads me to another slight problem, which involves allies getting in the way during especially intense firefights, and because the AI isn’t the greatest, this can get pretty annoying. While your friends will often help out, there are just too many times when they sit there in cover and do nothing. The good news is that the enemy AI isn’t any better, so you can sort of take advantage. Even so, the preceding can all hinder your enjoyment and it’s noticeable enough to be problematic throughout, which keeps this game from vaulting into the elite ranks. That being said, I refer you back to the introduction, where we told you the positives outweighed the negatives…it’s absolutely true, primarily because when I sat down to play War for Cybertron , I found I was still playing two hours later, which is always a very good sign.
The story involves what amounts to a civil war between the Decepticons and Autobots on Cybertron; at the start, you can either begin in Chapter I with the Decepticons, or you can skip to Chapter VI and take the side of the Autobots. This gives you a good amount of freedom and given the game’s ten available chapters, there’s plenty of gameplay involved. It can take a good hour and a half – if not longer – to finish some of the tougher chapters, so you do the math. Furthermore, you will travel about with a party of three allies for both the Decepticons and Autobots, and although you can’t switch between them when playing through the chapter, you can select the Transformer you wish to control before starting. Most of the robots move in the same fashion, although they stand apart thanks to unique transforming and inherent skills. For instance, Starscream can turn into that speedy jet, and when the meter is full (charge it by collecting energy shards), you can engage your Transformer’s special ability.
Transforming is as simple as a press of the R3 button, and you can switch at just about any time, even in the midst of moving or fighting. You do have to wait for the animation to finish before switching back, but that’s to be expected. You have a melee attack and the option to carry one additional weapon that acts as a supplemental tool to your robot’s default weapon. These weapons are all very cool; although they go by different names, there are equivalents to rocket launchers and sniper rifles, and it’s fun to experiment with each Transformer’s default weapon. And let’s not forget that the vehicle you change into also has a unique weapon, which many times serves as a survival tool if you happen to run out of ammo for the other guns. The control is always simple and accessible, I didn’t sense any collision detection issues, the level design forces you to utilize both forms, the boss fights are intense and enjoyable, and some chapters will play very differently depending on your Transformer choice.
The bottom line is that the speed and control works and the game stays fun throughout most all chapters. There’s a wee bit of repetition involved, you often find yourself running out of ammo a bit too often (depending on the situation), and the camera can pose a problem here and there, but none of this is enough to cripple the experience. For those who either grew up with the cartoon or are newcomers who love the movies, Transformers: War for Cybertron is a great option, and one that’s well worth your time and money. The multiplayer is also fulfilling, especially if you happen to know another big Transformers fan, and there aren’t many problems to speak of. At this point, I’d say that any game made by High Moon Studios should probably be given your due attention; this is the second time they’ve managed to crush our skepticism and come through in fine shape.